Born in Henderson, Texas and raised in Houston, Archie Bell
grew up in a household that included seven brothers, including All-American football star Ricky Bell. His mother, Ruthie Bell, sang gospel and made sure her sons were involved in church-based activities. Because of his mother, Bell
began singing in church at an early age. He formed Archie Bell & the Drells in his teens and started performing at local talent shows. While performing, the group was discovered by KCOH DJ Skipper Lee Frazier. Frazier had his own record label, Ovid, and on a handshake-based management deal, the Drells began recording for him. The group scored a regional hit in 1967 with "She's My Woman, She's My Girl."
Soon after, Bell
was drafted to serve in Vietnam. While on short leave from the Army, Bell
recorded "Tighten Up," which he and Billy Butler wrote with musical backing by the T.S.U. Toronadoes. Issued in December 1967, "Tighten Up" became a huge hit in Houston. The following May, after Atlantic
picked it up for wide distribution, the song topped the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts for two weeks, and received a gold certification from the RIAA. The parent album, also titled Tighten Up, reached number 15 R&B and 142 pop. Bell
was stationed in Germany as this developed. For performances, James Wise substituted for Bell
and Charles Gibbs was brought in to add background vocals. Occasionally, Bell
was allowed to return to the U.S. to do club dates.
The follow-up single, "I Can't Stop Dancing," marked the beginning of a long affiliation with production and songwriting duo Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff
. It peaked at number nine on the Hot 100 and at number five on the R&B chart. Afterward, Bell
and the Drells didn't threaten the pop Top Ten again, but they were a favorite among serious lovers of soul music. The group's last charting single for Atlantic
was the David Crawford-produced cover of Sam & Dave
's "Wrap It Up." Following one single for Henry Stone's Glades
label, the successful "Dancing to Your Music," they recorded for the TSOP
label, a subsidiary of Gamble and Huff
's Philadelphia International Records
, and quickly moved to PIR
proper. This period was highlighted by the number 11 R&B album Dance Your Troubles Away (1975), the Top 40 R&B album Strategy (1979), and charting singles such as "The Soul City Walk," "Let's Groove," and "Strategy."
In 1980, the year Japan's Yellow Magic Orchestra
appeared on Soul Train with their animated version of "Tighten Up," Archie Bell & the Drells broke up. Bell
released a solo album, I Never Had It So Good, the following year on the Beckett label. He and the Drells eventually reunited, however, and continued to perform well into the latter half of the 2010s. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2016 with the two-disc Let's Groove: The Archie Bell & the Drells Story, released on BBR
in the U.K. ~ Ed Hogan & Andy Kellman, Rovi